A writer must pack as much profundity as possible into a shorter time-frame when writing for the stage. A playwright must be economical and selective with regard to literary convention. A novel typically has more pages to communicate complex feelings and ideas – a luxury not afforded to a play. A play must transform an audience in much less time and the works of William Shakespeare endure so well because they effectively do just that.
Naturally, as film has become a popular source of entertainment, re-imagining the works of Shakespeare to create movies has also become popular with actors, directors and audiences alike. Modern adaptations are not unique to Shakespeare, for example, Verdi’s opera La Traviata was loosely re-created in Baz Luhermann’s Moulin Rouge on film. Whether you love or hate the result, you cannot deny that attempts to modernize classic stage productions can result in some very creative adaptations.
The nineties ushered in a decade full of modern Shakespearean tweaks, tributes and overhauls at the movies. Some of these films are brilliantly acted, some boast incredible art direction and costumes, and some reach beyond the source material to deliver thought-provoking statements about modern life. If you are contemplating a little small-screen Shakespeare action to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death, here are a few films from the nineties worth checking out:
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)
Tim Roth and Gary Oldman play the titular roles in this adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s play based on these minor characters from Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Hamlet.
Kenneth Branagh is the perfect Iago and Laurence Fishburne is the perfect Othello – an incredible performance by both actors.
Critics have strong opinions about Titus Andronicus – some believe that the play was written by another writer and others deem it trash. The bizarre story is very dark and has been known to shock audiences. Present day champions of the work believe that the violent play is more palatable to audiences today who are less shocked by rape, dismemberment and cannibalism in entertainment.
Tromeo and Juliet (1996)
Surreal and bizarre, this Lloyd Kaufman Troma film is twisted and weird but fascinating and compelling nonetheless (in typical Troma fashion). Definitely not for everyone, if you are looking for a more traditional Shakespeare experience – bypass this film.
Kenneth Branagh chose to direct and star in his own version of Hamlet just 6 years after Franco Zeffirelli directed Mel Gibson in the same role. In the nineties everyone knew what was rotten in Denmark. While the Zeffirelli film has its own merits, Branagh, is a renowned thespian and his film demonstrated superior acting in the lead role.
Romeo & Juliet (1996)
Another film that blends tradition with modernity a la Baz Luhrmann. A creative masterpiece with beautiful costumes, opulent sets, and a killer soundtrack. Casting Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, during the height of their teenage popularity – was a brilliant move.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)
As far as comedies go, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular. The 1999 film is set to a dreamy magical backdrop that would not be possible to recreate on a stage.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
A nineties teen modernization of The Taming of The Shrew starring the late Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Julia Stiles.